“I Can See Clearly Now,” But How Long Will It Last?

Fireplace & Oil Lamp
Our Fireplace And Oil Lamp | Photo by Suzanne Chuey

The quote is from a Johnny Nash song and I use it to describe what the air quality should be all year round. That isn’t always the case. In the heat of summer we have wildfire smoke to contend with, pollen grains floating around, and the often increased Ozone levels. As Winter approaches the air becomes filled with the smoke coming out of our chimneys. Many people burn wood as their primary source of heat at this time of the year and that causes issues with our air quality. The air is monitored with daily postings of the Home Wood Heating Advisory.

What is the Home Wood Heating Advisory and why is it so important? The Winter heating season is the reason for The Home Wood Heating Advisory that is prepared by LRAPA (Lane Regional Air Protection Agency). The reporting season for the advisory has been extended from past years. It starts on October 1st and continues through May 31st. The Advisory is issued during the winter months because that is when it gets colder and more people heat their homes, at least in part, with wood stoves and/or fireplaces.


Levels Of Chimney Smoke | Image by LRAPA
Levels Of Chimney Smoke(Opaque Stack 2 is acceptable) | Image by LRAPA

Those fires produce smoke and when the air is trapped near the ground in the winter the smoke has nowhere to go, so it gets more and more dense causing breathing problems for many people. It bothers those who already have breathing problems such as asthma, emphysema, COPD, allergies, heart and lung disease, the very old, the very young, and pregnant women the most. When the air gets really bad it can put everyone at risk. What about the “air” causes all of these problems?

BBQ Fire | Photo by hummingbird88stock.deviantart.com
BBQ Fire | Photo by hummingbird88stock.deviantart.com

It goes back to what makes up the smoke from wood fires. The technical definition of fire as defined by Wikipedia is “the rapid oxidation of a material in the exothermic chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light, and various reaction products.” It’s those reaction products that we are concerned with here particularly the smoke. Another Wikipedia definition for smoke is “a collection of airborne solid and liquid particulates emitted when a material undergoes combustion or pyrolysis together with the quantity of the air that is entrained or otherwise mixed into the mass.” Wood smoke has been known to contain over 200 chemicals and compound groups and that is where the problem begins when people inhale and pull them into their lungs.

Clean Chimney Smoke
Clean Chimney Smoke During Red Advisory | Photo by LRAPA

The Home Wood Heating Advisory is issued for two reasons. First of all to alert the public to the amount of particulates in the air so you can avoid as much exposure to it as possible and secondly to let you know when the air quality is getting bad enough that you should either restrict your burning of wood products or even curtail wood burning completely until the air quality significantly improves.

According to LRAPA “there are three categories used in the Home Wood Heating Advisory:

1) Green – A Green advisory means air quality is good and burning is allowed.

2) Yellow – A Yellow advisory indicates that the air quality is deteriorating and burning is cautioned against.

3) Red – A Red advisory indicates that the air quality is poor and burning is prohibited. Pellet stoves may be used if they produce no visible emissions.”

The advisory is determined by taking into account current air pollution levels, the Air Quality Index, and current weather forecasts. Those found in violation of the rules can be fined. The Red Advisory can fall into one of four categories of fines up to $500 per day in violation.

There are exemptions to the program: “Low income exemptions are allowed for people who meet economic need guidelines. These exemptions allow qualified individual households to heat with wood-burning devices during periods of inadequate atmospheric mixing and poor air quality. Exemptions are granted on a yearly basis to applicants who meet Oregon Housing and Community Services Department Poverty Guidelines.” Here is a link to the LRAPA exemption form.

“The program is and has been mandatory in the Eugene/Springfield area and in the Oakridge area. During the Red Advisory “A person is in violation of the program if their home’s chimney emits visible smoke.”

We post the Home Wood Heating Advisory here on EDN on my page called “Chuey’s Corner.” and it looks like this.

Fireplace 2 For Home Wood Heating Advisory | Photo by blogs.sch.gr

Home Wood Heating Advisory:

Eugene/Springfield: GREEN – Burning is allowed

Oakridge: GREEN – Burning is allowed.

The use of Pellet stoves is always allowed if they produce no visible emissions.

Data Courtesy of Lane Regional Air Protection Agency (LRAPA)


Here are some tips from LRAPA on how you can help “improve air quality:

1) Burn only dry seasoned wood.

2) Burn hardwoods, such as oak, madrone, and nut and fruit woods.

Stacked Firewood | Image by firewoodtulsa.com
Stacked Firewood | Image by firewoodtulsa.com

3) Limit kindling to fir pine and cedar, never burn softwoods like cottonwood and poplar.

4) Burn a small, hot fire.

5) NEVER burn garbage or treated/painted wood.

6) Leave your woodstove’s damper open.

7) Use alternative heat sources such as natural gas or electricity.

8) Check your chimney for smoke. The more smoke, the more pollution.

Chimney Sweep | Photo by carpetcleaningnorfolkva.net
Chimney Sweep | Photo by carpetcleaningnorfolkva.net

9) Clean your chimney regularly.”

Following all of these guidelines will produce safer conditions for your home heating and cleaner air for all of us to breathe. Our temperatures have warmed up, cooled down, and warmed up again with the current series of storms, but you can be sure it will get cold again and even cold enough for the smoke from wood stoves and fireplaces to possibly build up to Red Advisory levels. So it would be a good idea to keep checking the Home Wood Heating Advisory each day to make sure you are in compliance with the rules.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].

Tim Chuey is a Member of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association and has been Awarded Seals of Approval for television weathercasting from both organizations.

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